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Cablegate: Czech Schengen Accession Limits Amcit Travel

VZCZCXRO7646
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN
RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHPG #0230/01 1001511
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 091511Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY PRAGUE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0236
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PRAGUE 000230

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CVIS PREL CMGT CASC EZ

SUBJECT: Czech Schengen Accession Limits Amcit Travel

REF: 2007 Prague 00001320

1. SUMMARY: The Czech Republic's December 21, 2007 entrance into
the Schengen zone has drastically limited European travel for
Americans with long-term Czech visas. Living legally in the country
but without true residency, these "D" visa holders use up their
allowed 90 days in the Schengen zone living in the Czech Republic
and thereafter are unable to travel visa-free to other
Schengen-member states. The Embassy is working with the Ministry of
Interior to address this unintended impact on the legitimate tourist
and business travel of Americans lawfully residing in the Czech
Republic. End summary.

SCHENGEN EXPOSES 'TRAP' IN CZECH LAW
------------------------------------

2. Schengen regulations allow Americans to stay visa-free within
its borders for up to 90 days out of 180 days and facilitate the
short-term travel of tourists (REFTEL). Longer or non-tourist stays
require a long-term visa or residency in a member country. Unlike
other Schengen states, the Czech Republic does not grant immediate
long-term residency (and therefore defacto EU residency) to
Americans who want to work and live in the country for more than 90
days. One first must apply for a long-term Czech territorial visa
("D" visa), which is usually valid for one year. When a D visa is
close to expiration, one can then apply for long-term Czech
residency, which would allow full travel throughout the Schengen
zone.

3. This interim, D visa step -- described as an unfortunate "trap"
in the law by one Ministry of Interior official -- is a territorial,
non-Schengen visa and does not function in the same way as
residency. The bearer may remain legally in the Czech Republic for
the term of the visa, but this time counts against his or her 90
days in the Schengen zone. Therefore, after 90 days bearers cannot
travel to other member countries visa-free. (Note: Bearers may
still transit the Schengen zone enroute to a non-Schengen country,
e.g. fly through Frankfurt on the way to the United States. End
Note.) This is a particular problem for business people, research
scholars, students and others based in Prague, to include Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty employees, many of whom have D visas.

SCHENGEN MEMBERS DON'T AGREE ON HOW TO ADDRESS PROBLEM
--------------------------------------------- ---------

4. In a March 3 American citizen forum organized by the Embassy on
the impact of Schengen, a Ministry of Interior (MOI) official heard
the complaints and concerns of attendees about their lack of ability
to travel. Official advice from the MOI was that, in order to visit
a specific country after one's 90 days are up, American D visa
holders should apply for a short-term, territorially limited visa at
the embassy of that particular Schengen country. Issuance of that
visa, however, depends on the individual policies of the member
state; in a true Catch-22, all Schengen member missions in Prague
except the Netherlands told the Embassy they cannot issue such visas
to Americans because Americans are on the Schengen visa-free list
(called the "white list"). The Germans said they would have to
check with their Foreign Ministry. Thus Americans living legally in
Prague essentially still do not have the right to travel in other
parts of the Schengen zone for the nine months between their 91st
day in the Schengen zone and the receipt of their long-term
residency at the expiration of the D visa.

5. The Czechs intend to use an EU working group meeting in Brussels
on April 14 to ask other Schengen states to be more flexible in
issuing short-term travel visas to Americans who have D visas. This
is not a long-term solution, and the other Schengen states believe
this "trap" in the law is a Czech problem to fix. The Czechs are
the outliers on this process; the other states skip the D visa
process and issue long-term residency right from the start. The
Czechs in Brussels may also propose that the D visa be sanctioned as
a Schengen-wide visa, rather than territorially limited to the Czech
Republic as it is now, but advise that this is a very slow process.

ONE NOTE OF SUCCESS
-------------------

6. Another related problem became clear before the Mission's
Schengen outreach event in March: Many Americans were living in the
Czech Republic without any long-term visa (REFTEL). Taking
advantage of lax Czech immigration enforcement, an untold number
merely entered and exited the country every few months to get a new
legal stay. Onset of Schengen meant stricter enforcement of the 90
days out of 180 days limit and no more living for years in the Czech
Republic visa-free. Thus, hundreds of Americans scrambling finally
to legalize their stay and other new applicants clogged the Czech
visa processing system and created huge backlogs. For those already
in the Czech Republic, it was unclear whether they would be deported
from the country if they stayed longer then 90 days after Schengen
accession while awaiting visa processing that could take up to four
or five months.


PRAGUE 00000230 002 OF 002


7. At the Mission's Schengen forum, the American community won a
minor victory when the Ministry of Interior announced a three-month
"grace period" on overstays for those foreigners awaiting D visas,
which the Embassy had pushed for. Americans caught staying longer
than the 90 days authorized by Schengen will not be deported if
their visa paperwork was pending before March 21, 2008 - the
three-month anniversary of Czech accession to Schengen.


COMMENT
-------

8. Czech accession to Schengen revealed true gaps in an
overburdened system. While the backlog of D visa issuances is
likely to subside soon, the travel limitations for those who hold D
visas will not ease without specific action by the Czech government
or the European Union. The best, most comprehensive solution would
be a change in Czech law that would allow for issuance of a
residency permit without first having a D visa or a change in the D
visa that would make it a hybrid residency permit allowing for
Schengen travel. These solutions, both of which are being studied
by the MOI, would take parliamentary approval and thus are likely to
take a matter of months, not weeks. The Embassy will continue
engaging with the ministry and other officials for resolution as
soon as possible.

GRABER

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